Wonder Woman gets a few big things right about World War I: No Man’s Land really was hell, the German army really did commit war crimes against Belgian civilians, and the Entente powers really were hardly morally spotless themselves. It also takes a few bigger liberties, though they’re the kinds of liberties you might expect from a superhero film: A bunch of German generals didn’t really get murdered right before the Armistice, and obviously there were no demigods from mystical islands of warrior women running around to save the day. Small potatoes, really.
And then there’s one part of the movie that blends both aspects: Danny Huston’s villainous General Ludendorff, who, it turns out, is named after a real person: actual German general Erich Ludendorff. (Maybe you knew this already and are rolling your eyes, but for the rest of us idiots, it was a shock.) But where does fact end and fiction begin? Here’s a quick guide to the differences between the two Ludendorffs.
Like the movie’s General Ludendorff, the real General Ludendorff was a high-ranking officer of the German army in the late stages of WWI. He served as quartermaster general under Paul von Hindenburg (who does not appear in Wonder Woman, robbing Brian Cox of a plum role), which made Ludendorff second-in-command of the German war effort — though, due to Hindenburg’s advanced age, Ludendorff was essentially running things.
Unlike the movie’s General Ludendorff, who is mostly seen in action on the Western Front and in Turkey, the real Ludendorff made his name fighting against Russia in the East. However, that front came to an end with the Bolshevik Revolution, which meant that Ludendorff was focusing on the West during the period Wonder Woman is set.
Like the movie’s General Ludendorff, the real general Ludendorff became increasingly unhinged toward the end of the war, though this can probably be chalked up to the stress of the job and the reported one hour of sleep he got a night, rather than a mysterious gas that gave him superhuman powers.
Unlike the movie’s General Ludendorff, the real General Ludendorff did not kill a bunch of his fellow generals in cold blood. Instead, he sent them lots and lots of micromanaging telegrams, which they hated.
Like the movie’s General Ludendorff, the real General Ludendorff came up in 1918 with a bold idea to win the war for Germany. Unlike the movie version’s plan, which involved partnering with a masked scientist known as Dr. Poison to create an ultrapoisonous gas, the real Ludendorff’s scheme was the Spring Offensive, which sent Germany’s best troops on an all-out advance on the Western Front, in the hopes of winning the war before U.S. troops arrived. The offensive led to some of the bloodiest fighting in the war, and German casualties were so high that they had nothing left to resist the Allies’ counterattack.
Like the movie’s General Ludendorff, the real General Ludendorff loved war — he luuuuurved war — and was opposed to the armistice that ended World War I. In the 1920s, he was a key figure in promoting the false idea that the German military had been “stabbed in the back” by leftists, Communists, and Jews. At the risk of understatement, this narrative would prove incredibly popular among the German right.
Unlike the movie’s General Ludendorff, who is clean-shaven, the real General Ludendorff had a mustache.
Unlike the movie’s General Ludendorff, who (spoiler alert!) is killed by Wonder Woman in the movie’s penultimate battle, the real General Ludendorff was killed by liver cancer in 1937.
The real General Ludendorff’s Wikipedia page has been updated to note that Wonder Woman’s Ludendorff is a “fictionalized” version who “bears little resemblance in terms of appearance or biography” to the real one.